JABALIYA // In shop windows and mosques throughout Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp, and on the walls of the modest but crowded home of the al Mabhouh family, hang life-size posters of the murdered Hamas commander, Mahmoud al Mabhouh.
Throughout yesterday, the al Mabhouh family played host to a steady stream of relatives and neighbours who stopped by to pay their respects, following the claim by the Palestinian militant group that one of their top leaders, the 50-year-old al Mabhouh, was assassinated in Dubai over a week ago. Among the mourners was the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, as well as several top leaders of the Islamic militant group.
The neighbourhood where the al Mabhouh family lives in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was without electricity yesterday, so they served Arabic coffee to guests roasted on a charcoal fire. "We expect everything from the Israeli enemy. It is not the first time the Israelis managed to kill Palestinians outside of Palestine," said Khalil al Hayya, a senior member of the Hamas politburo, who accompanied Mr Haniya to the family home.
"We will respond to Israeli crimes at the proper time, and place, and with the means we choose." The family claim al Mabhouh, a key founder of the Palestinian resistance group, had been the target of a number of Israeli assassination attempts over the years, and had himself expressed concern he would one day become a "martyr" at the hands of the Israelis. "The last time I saw my son was in 2005, when I was able to travel to Syria to visit him," said al Mabhouh's father, Abdel Raouf. "But the last time I spoke with him was the week before he died, and he was healthy.
"There is no reason he would die so suddenly like that. We don't know why he was in Dubai, but we asked Hamas to look into his death." Al Mabhouh was a founding member of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedeen al Qassam Brigades, established 22 years ago as an Islamic resistance movement against Israeli occupation. He fled the Gaza Strip in 1989 after kidnapping and killing two Israeli soldiers during the first Palestinian intifada that began in 1987. Israeli officials say he was also responsible for engineering a number of other deadly attacks on Israelis.
He had reportedly travelled to Dubai from Damascus - where Hamas has its political headquarters - on January 19, and his body was found in a Dubai hotel on January 20. According to reports, the Hamas operative acted as a liaison between Hamas and its Iranian financial backers, and was responsible for securing weapons for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The al Mabhouh family said Hamas leaders had telephoned them on the day of his death, but called again yesterday to tell them al Mabhouh family had been murdered.
"He died from electrical shocks to the brain," claimed al Mabhouh's brother, Mohammed, speaking from the same home in the refugee camp where he and his siblings were born. "They told us an electrical appliance was held up against his head until he died." Hamas officials would not confirm his cause of death, saying in a statement the investigation was ongoing, but that it would soon publish "more details" and that "the Zionist enemy bears complete responsibility for the assassination".
Israel has killed dozens of Hamas leaders and military figures, including its leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in a helicopter gunship attack in Gaza in 2004. In the wake of the 1989 murder of the two Israeli soldiers, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sadon, the Israeli army arrested al Mabhouh's family members and demolished his home, the family said. "They tried to kill him six times," said al Mabhouh's mother, Fatima. "They tried to kidnap and poison him in Lebanon and in Syria. As soon as I heard the news of his death, I knew it was the Israelis."
"They even arrested us," she said, "but we couldn't tell them anything about where he was or what he was doing." The family said they attempted to travel to Syria for al Mabhouh's funeral, held yesterday in Damascus, but were turned back at Gaza's Rafah border with Egypt by Egyptian officials.
"We paid the Egyptian border guards money, and they even took our passports," Abdel Raouf said. "And then when they saw our names, they said: 'Are you the family of Mahmoud al Mabhouh?' and we said: 'Yes, is it a crime? He is a hero for our country.'" The family also said they hoped Hamas would carry out a "strong retaliation" for al Mabhouh's death. "We wish we could take revenge, but we don't have the means," Abdel Raouf said. "But Hamas will retaliate for us, in the name of my son, the martyr."
Hamas and Israel fought a deadly war in the Gaza Strip last winter, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. The movement has since kept both its rhetoric and its border with Israel relatively quiet, thwarting rocket attacks by other Palestinian armed groups and even declaring a so-called "rocket ceasefire" in order to allow the impoverished Palestinian territory to rebuild.
But yesterday, Hamas leaders abandoned their conciliatory tone. "There is an open battle between the Palestinians and the Israelis," said Mr al Hayya. "Our resistance is ongoing, and we will never forget our martyrs. We will end all of this with victory for the Palestinian people." * The National